Aim of the exercise: To draw a fish on a decorative plate (which we could decide whether to show the decoration or not), set in a fairly neutral context using watercolour paper, watersoluble pencils or a mix of coloured pencils and inks, looking at colours, markings, texture and how the light catches on the fish and aim to capture these effectively.
What I experienced:
Completed 11/11/12. I must admit that I found this exercise very difficult as I’ve got quite a phobia about fish with heads (unless they are swimming around). I also found the smell very hard. I work in a small confined area and as I am still so slow at drawing I faced a long time with these fish.
I tried various positions of both the mackeral (I preferred them facing in opposite directions and hoped that the negative spaces between them would help me to draw them) and the plate. In the end though, I’m ashamed to say, that with the plate I chose the position I did because it would be the most straightforward to draw, both for the plate and the fish, despite the fact that turning the plate diagonally or angled would have made the drawing more dynamic. I also did not do any preparatory sketchbook work. I really was finding it very difficult to be in the same room as the fish, which was pretty stupid but there you go, and the smell, which was ever increasing was making me feel decidedly sick. I honestly could not face spending any more time than I had to and if I was going to get the drawing done it really was now or never, so I started directly with the drawing.
The basic outline drawing took me about four hours to pin down which, though this included observation time, was still a really poor showing. I struggled to get the basic shapes, proportions and structure of the mackeral correctly and also to capture the way they were laying in the plate. I clearly need to go back and work on my ellipses as one of those hours was spent just trying to observe and get the oval plate correctly drawn, having made countless errors with it.
By the time it came to the colour stage my confidence level had taken quite a pounding. I spent a long time looking at the mackeral, trying to understand the different textures, markings, how the light caught and what colours I could see. I was surprised to pick up yellows and browns that I had not seen at first and the bluey silver sheen to the back. There did not appear to be as many colours as I was expecting but that may have been due to viewing them in electric light. I worked hard at trying to capture the qualities of the fish using watercolour pencils, Cretacolour AquaMonolith’s. I put in an undercoat of colour and washed over this with a waterbrush and then built up layers, sometimes washing over them with a waterbrush, sometimes leaving the pencil marks untouched. It was a slow process and this stage alone took several hours, but gradually the drawing came together. I treated the area behind the plate very simply as I wanted the shadows to be emphasized and strengthened the foreground colour to give increased depth. I decided the decoration on the plate would make the area around the mackeral too busy so omitted it. I spent far too long on this drawing, the fish were decidedly past their best by the time I completed it, as was I, but it had been a very useful learning experience (please see figure 1).
Things that I feel went well: My main aim was to capture the essence and character of the mackeral. I had learnt from doing the previous research point how important this aspect was and I tried to keep that in mind throughout the drawing and although I have a long way to go with this I think that I have captured a little of their character. I think that the fish look believable and I think that I have captured reasonably well how they were laying on the plate and feel that they look reasonably 3D. I think that the watercolour pencils and watercolour paper worked well together, the texture of the paper helping in the suggestion of the texture of the fish. I let a lack of confidence really win the day when I started this exercise but feel pleased that I was able to keep steadily working and completed the drawing, despite an awful lot of wimpy thoughts on my part. I feel that I have achieved stronger shadows than I normally manage and this in turn has helped to increase tonal contrast.
Things that I feel did not go well: My composition is extremely boring, the one positive being that I did try to ensure that all negative spaces were different which I think I mainly achieved. I understand why in this instance I did not feel able to do any preparatory sketchbook work but by not doing so I missed out on the opportunity to try out setups and test out compositional ideas, colour mixes etc, and is not something I would like to repeat. I was very hesitant in both my initial drawing, adding colour and mark making and although my mark making describes the various textures I have done so in quite a pedestrian way. I hit a complete blank when I was trying to work out what to use as a background and what I chose is both boring and poorly portrayed. I have made a very literal translation of the mackeral and though I would like to have been more adventurous, a lack of skills, confidence and imagination is proving to make this difficult. My range of tones is not wide enough in the drawing and the colour of the plate is too similar to some of the colours in the mackeral and my colour range throughout is quite limited.
How would I like my practise to change following this exercise: 1) Ensure in future that I always do the sketchbook preparatory stage however difficult the circumstances, or however unsure I feel of my ability to do the drawing. 2) Revisit drawing ellipses 3) Continue to work at developing compositional skills, both by gaining better understanding of the theory side of things as well as studying artists work to understand the compositional elements they have used 4) Work at increasing my tonal range in my drawings and work at becoming bolder in my approach in using media, experiment with ways of doing this in my sketchbook 5) Gain a better understanding of the use of background elements and study how artists have used these